Stefan Ruzowitzky • Director
by Camillo de Marco
22/01/2008 - The Counterfeiter [trailer] by Stefan Ruzowitzky has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The director spoke to Cineuropa in Rome before the film’s Italian release next February the 1st by Lady Film. In the story, talented counterfeiter and bohemian Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Martkovics) is deported to the Nazi concentration camp Mauthausen in 1939, then transferred to the Sachsenhausen camp, where he takes part in Operazione Berhard: falsifying and printing millions of pounds and dollars in order to flood the enemy market and bring it to its knees.
The main character is an anti-hero, through whom Ruzowitzky offers an alternative perspective of the Holocaust, as Art Spiegelman did in his comic book Maus (which also depicted the weaknesses of his Jewish father) and, more recently, Jonathan Littell in his novel The Kindly Ones, which describes Nazis as normal human beings.
“They were not psychopaths,” explains the director. "They were people following orders. And I depicted the SS Kommandant as a parent with a job: killing".
Cineuropa: Did the idea come about after having read the book on which the film is based, Adolf Burger’s The Devil’s Workshop?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: It was a strange coincidence because there were two producers who came to me with the same project over two weeks. I took that to be a sign of destiny. It was very important for me as an Austrian to deal with this subject. In Austria, the right-wing populist parties FPO and BZO, with their intolerable proximity to Nazi ideology, have 20 percent of the vote and can therefore actively participate in the country’s government. Making a film was the best way to express my dissent.
How has the film been received in the countries in which it’s been released so far?
Nazism is still a taboo. The film has been successful throughout the world. The only country it didn’t do well in was Germany. The reason why is that our generation is aware of the fact that our grandfathers committed terrible crimes and we don’t know how to face this reality. I had the chance to do so with my film.
How was it to work with the 90 year-old Adolf Burger?
We met several times and in the beginning I was nervous because I had to talk to this man who had survived the concentration camp to relate his experience in a book. But Burger has spoken numerous times in schools, he’s received letters from students for decades. He knew how important it was to pass on his story and he knew how to do it, which was a great help to us on the screenplay.
Was the shoot a very emotional one?
When you shoot a film you have to deal with problems with costumes, make-up, technical questions, which for two months help you not to break down over every scene. But when Burger and Plappler, the last survivors, came to the set, it was without a doubt a tremendously emotional moment. I realized we weren’t just making a film. This was a story, it had really happened, and these two men had lived through this tragedy.